Preschool has surprisingly enduring benefits that last well into adulthood, according to one of the biggest, longest follow-up studies of its kind.
Better jobs, less drug abuse, and fewer arrests are among advantages found in the study that tracked more than 1,000 low-income, mostly black Chicago kids for up to 25 years.
Michael Washington was one of them. Now a 31-year-old heating and air conditioning contractor, Washington attended a year of preschool at Chicago’s intensive Child-Parent Center Education Program when he was 4.
The ongoing, publicly funded program focuses on language development, scholastic skills, and building self-confidence. It involves one or two years of half-day preschool, and up to four additional years of educational and family services in grade school. Preschool teachers have college degrees and are certified in early childhood education, and parents are encouraged to be involved in the classes.
Washington lived in an impoverished West Side community and has strong memories of preschool field trips to the library, zoo, and planetarium, where he learned to love science. He says he’ll never forget the strong influence of his preschool teachers.
“You expect your mom and dad to care for you. But when a stranger, who has no ties to you whatsoever, takes the time to invest in you, takes the time to listen, that makes you open your eyes bigger,” said Washington, now living in Blue Island, Ill. “It was real cool.”
Washington got good grades in elementary and high school, and he attended two years of college at Chicago State University. Unlike other kids he knew from the neighborhood who didn’t attend preschool, he says he never tried drugs and was never arrested.